Part 1: My Favorite Personal Finance and Investment Tools

I have been actively and diligently managing my dividend stock portfolio for over 7-years. The portfolio has not only provided me with growing income for years, which I have been re-investing, my return has also been higher than the overall S&P 500 Index. 

My 1-Year Return Compared to S&P 500 Index as of 8/24/2016

My Asset Allocation as of 8/24/2016

My investment approach has evolved over the years from being a short-term trader to a long-term investor using stock valuation and fundamental analysis techniques. Yes, I started out as a short-term trader and even though I made very good money doing that, I soon realized it was not sustainable given my high stress day job and all the overhead (fees, taxes) that eats into profits. There had to be a better way to invest, and that's when I stumbled into the boring world of dividend and value investing using famous economist and professional investor Benjamin Graham's fundamental analysis approach.  

Fundamental analysis requires sorting through company's financial data such as income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. All three are normally available for free at a company's Investor Relation website. However, sorting through multiple years of financial statements can be quite time-consuming and difficult as one has to compare data across multiple documents spanning through several years of financial history. 

Therefore, it is often more efficient to use a tool that can download and aggregate multiple years of financial data and calculate all the fundamental parameters and financial ratios. There are several websites that offer such tools and I will cover my favorite ones later in this two-part article.

Besides the data aggregation and fundamental analysis tools, an investor also needs to have simple means to track their stock portfolio. Brokerages offer such tools but user has to be logged into their account to use those tools. For security reasons, I don't like logging into my bank or financial accounts outside of my private home network. Besides most financial institutions will log you out automatically after a period of inactivity. I want monitoring tools to be available all the time and without requiring any passwords. Since all I am tracking is stock price movement and news related to my stocks and watchlists, there is no need to log into my secure brokerage accounts for that. Using generic stock tracking tools, I can access my watchlists anywhere and without worrying about network security.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of standalone and free portfolio monitoring or tracking tools. I use separate tools for tracking and researching a stock. In this post, I will cover the tracking tools and then in the second half of this two-part post we will look at my favorite research and analysis tools.

Stock Tracking Tools

I like to track my stock portfolio on a daily basis. It sounds excessive, but actually it's not. Daily monitoring allows me to keep an eye on any big or unexpected movement in the market or a given stock price. Such big movements in an individual stock or market may provide an opportunity to buy a blue chip high quality stock at a fair or below fair value. Big movements can also be a sign of trouble ahead and may provide an early warning to an investor to reconsider their position. 

Most days, tracking takes only a couple of minutes. I mainly look at the top and bottom movers in my portfolio and watchlists. I also keep a buy watchlist consisting of stocks that I would like to own at a fair or below fair value. 

CNBC Mobile App - I use this tool first thing in the morning when I get up and still in bed. I normally get up just before market opens. Within the app, I have my portfolio and watch lists setup for the stocks I own and the stocks that I am watching.
My Buy Watchlist in CNBC iPhone App

The app provides real-time market and stock price data including future and extended hour data. This is the first app I look at when I wake up in the morning and still in bed. With a glance or two, I can get a quick idea of what is going-on with my portfolio and whether I need to take any action. Small market or stock price movements don't need any further action from me, it's only when there is a big movement (>3%) in any of my stocks, I have to do more investigation.

The CNBC tool is free to use and allows unlimited number of watchlists. There is also a CNBC Pro subscription option which gives access to CNBC Live TV feed and Pro articles. I have found the basic free CNBC features more than enough for my needs.

Yahoo Finance - I use Yahoo Finance on my desktop computer to track my stock portfolio and watch-lists across all sectors of S&P 500. When working on my desktop computer, I usually have multiple Yahoo Finance browser windows open and displaying real-time stock prices of all my watchlists. It addition to stock price changes, it also shows historical graphs and any related news. Glancing through the historic graphs, help me see if there is a downward or upward trend in a given stock and thus an opportunity to buy a new stock position or if there is an overvalued position that I need to monitor closely. I have preset desktop shortcuts to open these multiple browser windows with my watchlists automatically. Yahoo Finance is completely free of charge.

My Yahoo Finance Desktop Watchlists Opened Side-By-Side

Quicken - I have used Quicken to track my finances and stock portfolio since 1997, the dial-up days. I use Quicken because it allows me to aggregate all my financial accounts including checking, savings, brokerage, health savings, and retirement into a single platform where I can then use it to track my spending, investment portfolios, and dividend income. Quicken uses a one-click update feature which allows me to instantly pull-in all my financial data across all my accounts into an easy to view dashboard. I can then individually go and analyze each account and graph my net worth or compare my income/expenses with previous month or last year's income/expenses. Quicken comes with both desktop and mobile App.

Quicken 2016 (image credit: Intuit)
I use Quicken once a week to download all my transactions from multiple financial institutions, and then use its export function to export all my stock portfolio data to a custom excel spreadsheet. I built the excel spreadsheet to add custom tracking elements to my dividend stock portfolio. I use conditional formatting as flags in the spreadsheet to automatically highlight a stock if any of its fundamentals start to deteriorate. It also helps me track parameters per stock position such as yield-on-cost, total gain/loss, stock dividend income as a % of total portfolio, stock position as a % of total portfolio, the next dividend increase due date, and whether any of my stocks are delinquent in raising their dividends. I expect my stocks to raise their dividends every year. The spreadsheet also helps me track credit rating for each company in my stock portfolio to ensure all my investments are of investment grade or above.

Stocks with deteriorating fundamentals or credit rating get tagged in my spreadsheet and end-up on a bench where I track them closely and if needed sell them on the first opportunity. The spreadsheet started out as a simple tool to do custom portfolio tracking. However, over the years I added many more tracking elements to it such as dividend health indicator which made the spreadsheet an indispensable tool for projecting my future dividend income as well as indicating any potential risks lurking in my portfolio.

A Partial View of My Custom Portfolio Tracking Excel Spreadsheet (some fields are hidden for privacy)

I should point out that Quicken does support sync to cloud which then allows you to keep all your data accessible on mobile device. I however do not use their cloud-sync feature and only use the standalone desktop application which keeps all my data local to my computer. 

I am not keen on trusting a cloud provider with my unencrypted financial data. This is the main reason I don't use free personal finance management tools which are mainly cloud based. I encrypt all my financial data including Quicken files on my computer and then back them up to my private network RAIDed drive and cloud storage services such as Amazon and Dropbox. 

This pretty much covers all the investment tracking tools I use. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I will walk you through my favorite stock research tools.

Disclaimer: Author of this article is not a licensed/registered financial or investment advisor and does not provide investment advice. This article is for informational purpose only. Please use your own judgment or seek a licensed financial advisor before investing. You, the reader, bear responsibility for your own investment and financial decisions. I am not compensated for mentioning any tools or products in this article. 


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